Skogsrå (Wood Nymph)

Swedish Forest


Jan-Litt worked as a charcoal-burner
(“Litt” because he was a little man).
He was used to boredom: he watched coal for a living,
was the enemy of every excess fire.
Numb with tedium, he had taken time out
for nineteenth-century daydreams,
for a swig of corn-brandy.
Like a fantasy, out of green forest haze,
the wood nymph slid,
dressed in the body of a woman wearing “fine long hair”,
chill eyes wide with another species’ feeling.
In this infinity of Swedish trees,
Jan-Litt offered her the bottle —
was he stunned into hospitality
or did he rise in the presence of this stark,
naked creature inexplicably to the occasion?
The wood nymph took the bottle from his hand
drank, then bit through the glass with her mouth:
the alcoholic shock
(or was it the taste of sap-blood?)
stung her into dropping it.
As she turned away, Jan-Litt saw
the perfect circle of bark midway down her back
and so realized this was no human being.
The brandy bottle with its broken neck survives to this day,
a jagged, incomparable heirloom
while Jan-Litt’s vision blazes

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